All of the standing balance poses have a counterbalance – a spot where it’s easy to stay upright because you’ve fallen away from the centre line.
Most often it involves the standing leg thighbone, high in the hip socket. Let it drop out to the side, and the balance is easier.
The problem is, you’re stuck. From a counterbalance, all you can do is stay upright.
Before you can expand into the fullness of the pose, you need to draw close to the median line.
This week’s Five-Minute Yoga Challenge is to notice your counterbalance in a standing balance pose, and correct it.
If you’re just beginning a yoga practice, work with Vrksasana, tree pose.
Use the wall if balance is an issue. Focus on pulling the top of your standing leg thigh deep into your hip socket, even before you raise your other foot from the floor.
If Ardha Chandrasana, half-moon pose, is already part of your practice, then try this method for losing the counterbalance. (I learned it from Gabriella Giubilaro, a senior Iyengar teacher from Florence, who teaches frequently in Vancouver.
First, take the balance out of the equation.
Stand facing the wall, feet parallel, toes about four inches from the wall, with a yoga brick about 18 inches in front of your right foot on the little toe side.
Rotate your feet to the right, and come into triangle pose.
Now bend your right knee, and bring your right hand to the floor. Step your left foot in, so your stride is shorter. Transfer your weight to your right foot.
Reach your right hand forward to the brick and come up into Ardha Chandrasana.
Bring your left toes to rest on the wall, with your left leg in line with your spine. Bend your left elbow, and bring your hand to the wall.
Bend your right knee again. With your knee deeply bent, rotate it away from the wall, so it lines up over your middle three toes.
You will feel a strong sensation of work in your right hip.
Slowly, carefully, straighten your right leg, keeping the alignment of your knee. (Compare the first and third photos to see the difference in the hip crease.)
Notice what has happened in the rest of your pose. Gently draw your pubic bone towards your navel. Take your shoulder blades down your back. Take your chin away from your chest.
Press out through the ball of your left big toe and from your lower right abdomen, and rotate toward the ceiling.
To come down, bend your right knee. Lower your left leg to about six inches from the floor, then stretch it back to return to your original wide stride. Repeat to the left side.
Benefits: Ardha Chandrasana improves balance, strengthens the legs, belly and lower back, and stretches the legs, shoulders, chest and spine.
But that’s not all that stretches and strengthens. Find your true balance in Ardha Chandrasana, and you may feel like you’re flying. It sure beats hanging out in a counterbalance.
Sequence: If five minutes is all you have, then warm up with triangle pose to each side. If there’s more time, try: lying down leg stretches, child’s pose and dog pose. Do Utthita Trikonasana (triangle pose), preferably twice to each side. Once you’ve worked with Ardha Chandrasana at the wall, try the pose again in the middle of the room.
Ouch: Our first experience of Ardha Chandrasana is often one of strong sensation in the standing leg and hip. Think of it as strengthening work, and go slowly. With regular practice, you’ll soon find the sweetness of the pose. If you have existing neck or back pain, check with your teacher before doing this pose.
Sanskrit Corner: Say: are-dah chan-DRAH-sanna. Ardha means half. Chandra means moon. Asana means pose.
Photo: Mark Robinson, me’nthedogs
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